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Glycerin

Glycerin

superstar
Also-called-like-this: Glycerol
Irritancy: 0
Comedogenicity: 0

Quick Facts

  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin

Geeky Details

Glycerin doesn’t sound very glamorous but it is a real oldie but a goodie. It’s been used in cosmetics for more than  50 years and it’s a totally natural ingredient that’s also in the outermost layer of our skin (called stratum corneum - SC). 

It’s a so-called humectant type of moisturiser meaning that it helps our skin to cling onto water. A 2005 study has shown that glycerin levels correlate with skin hydration levels, so more glycerin means better hydrated skin.

As newer studies examine glycerin it turns out more and more that it’s not just a simple humectant but also does some other important things: 

  •  It makes sure that the gooey stuff between the skin cells is neither too diluted nor too concentrated (it’s called osmoregulation)
  • It helps to maintain the healthy state of the cell membranes and intracellular lipids (keeping the lipids in a nice liquid crystal state that is optimal for barrier function)
  • It can normalize skin shedding in very dry skin. 
  • It protects against skin irritation (such as washing your face too much and/or too aggressively)

What this all means is that glycerin is a real superstar and helps to maintain the healthy state of our skin in several ways. 

And there is even more. If your skin is severely dry, you have to read this. A large-scale study done with 394 guys and girls with dry skin compared two high-glycerin (containing 25% and 40% glycerin) moisturizers to 16 other popular moisturizers on the market (that had less than 6% glycerin). The two high-glycerin ones won hands down. They had superior, quick-acting hydrating properties and they also seemed to create a “reservoir” of moisture-holding ability in the skin. This means that even after not using the high-glycerin moisturizer the skin stayed hydrated longer compared to all the other low glycerin moisturizers. 

You might think now that this is sooo awsome I will go to the pharmacy right now buy some glycerin and put it on my face. Well, do not do that. 100% pure glycerin is not good for the skin either. Too much glycerin (and in general humectants) might attract water out of the lower layers of the skin. That’s a problem because once water is in the upper layer some of it will evaporate. It’s called trans-epidermal-water-loss (TEWL). If too much TEWL happens your skin becomes dry. :( 

This is confirmed by a study too: skin treated to 99.7% glycerin for 5 days showed that after the treatment the SC (do you remember? it’s the outermost layer of the skin) was not visibly different from the untreated control. The same study also examined skin treated with a 25% glycerin lotion and there the SC had a visibly different, expanded - in other words more hydrated - appearance. 

So the thing to know about the optimal amount of glycerin is this: it is an effective molecule already from 3% (even from 1%, at least when combined with skin lipids), and the benefits tend to increase up until 20-40%. Around 10%, glycerin seems to have a reals sweet spot in terms of effects and usability. This amount is still possible to formulate into a relatively light, non-sticky and not too heavy formula (yes, glycerin is sticky and high % is really hard to formulate into a cosmetically elegant formula) but 10% also shows all the great therapeutic effects including effective moisturization with a reservoir effect, protecting against irritation, maintaining a healthy skin barrier and making the skin just smooth and plump. 

So bottom line: glycerin is a real goodie and far more than a simple moisturizer. In our opinion, it is an underappreciated superstar that deserves more spotlight that it is currently getting. 

Show me some proof

  • Leslie Baumann, MD, Cosmetic Dermatology, 2nd edition, Glycerin- pages 275
  • The Journal of investigative dermatology., 2005 Aug;125(2):288-93., Is endogenous glycerol a determinant of stratum corneum hydration in humans?
  • Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function, Marie Loden, Howard I. Maibach, chapter 20: Glycerol — Just a Moisturizer? Biological and Biophysical Effects

Products with a known amount of Glycerin

Other products with Glycerin

111SKIN Y Theorem Repair Serum Nac Y2 Acure Incredibly Clear Cleansing Stick Alba Very Emollient Maximum Body Lotion Algenist Alive Prebiotic Balancing Mask BIOSSANCE Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Mask BOSCIA Charcoal Deep-Pore Cleansing Stick Treatment Belif The True Tincture Cleansing Stick Bioeffect 30 Day Treatment Bioeffect EGF Serum Boots Laboratories No7 Resurfacing Skin Paste Mask Caolion Blackhead Steam Pore Pack Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream Dr Organic Aloe Vera Toothpaste Dr. Jart+ Dermask Spot Jet Cheek & Eye Lift Ego Qv Intensive Moisturising Cleanser Elemis Superfood Blackcurrant Jelly Exfoliator Erno Lazslo Hydra-Therapy Boost Serum Eucerin Advanced Repair Lotion Farmacy Honey Potion Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence Holika Holika Good Cera Super Ceramide Moisture Balm I'm From Ginseng Mask IOSSI Charcoal. Purifying Facial Cleansing Paste L'Oreal Paris Pure-Sugar Purify & Unclog Kiwi Scrub L'oreal Smooth Sugar Clear Kiwi Face & Lip Scrub Lixir Vitamin C Paste Lush Oatifix Face Mask Lush Rosy Cheeks L´Occitane Immortelle Divine Foaming Cleansing Cream Mario Badescu Peptide Renewal Serum Marvis Whitening Mint Toothpaste Meishoku Detclear Bright & Peel Hot Cleansing Gel Cream Mesoestetic Melanogel Antispot Cream Missha Super Aqua Oil Clear Cleansing Foam Muji [Mild] Face Scrub MyChelle Dermaceuticals Gentle Cleansing Wash NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 5% Neogen Real Fresh Green Tea Cleansing Stick Neutral Face Wash Neutrogena Microdermabrasion Pads Nivea Hyaluron Cellular Filler Nourishing Oil Elixir Omorovicza Silver Skin Saviour Panacea Skincare Daily Facial Cleanser Peter Thomas Roth 24K Gold Mask Philosophy Purity Made Simple Deep-Clean Mask Philosophy The Microdelivery Purifying Peel Pixi In-Shower Steam Facial Self-Heating Collagen Mask Retrouvé Luminous Cleansing Elixir Revolution Skincare Warming Gel Moisturising Face Mask Revolution Skincare X Jake Jamie Watermelon Hydrating Face Mask